By JESSICA REDIKER
If you ask a woman, odds are she can probably recall the first time a man sexually harassed her while she walked down the street.
I was a fairly gawky-looking 13-year-old. I was lanky and if other girls my age were considered curvy, I was definitely concave.
I was dressed in my Grade 8 graduation outfit. A mid-length, billowy black skirt and a fairly casual black T-shirt with a white collar – the epitome of formal wear, clearly.
I felt strange enough in what I felt was, by my own standards, a hyper-feminine ensemble, but as I walked to my parents’ office to get a ride to graduation, I heard a sound that would forever make me turn my head and roll my eyes.
“Nice ass, baby!” followed by several car honks. As I turned, I saw a man hanging out his car window going gaga over my pre-pubescent body. Gross.
In what can only be described as an act of natural reflex, I threw my arm into the air and thrust my middle finger upward with more force than I ever had before, or ever would again.
Over the years I’ve had many hoots and hollers directed at me from moving vehicles and, while I almost always react in the same manner, the thought that always follows these incidents is one that I reflect on often.
What gives someone the right to comment on how I look?
It’s nice to receive a genuine and respectful compliment from someone familiar from time to time, but a perfect stranger expressing his fondness for my form is never flattering. It’s offensive to say the least.
It can be argued that perhaps this behaviour is a male asserting his perceived dominance over a female, or maybe he actually thinks this is a flattering way to let a woman know he’s interested in her, but whatever the reason is, it is completely unwarranted.
Going out in public does not give anyone the right to comment on my body or how it looks — no matter what I’m wearing, what I’m drinking, where I’m going or how I present myself. Nothing I do is an invitation for you to tell me that you find me desirable, because I am not asking for that kind of attention.
In an online survey conducted in 2008 by Stop Street Harassment, an activist group fighting against this kind of attention, 99 per cent of 811 female respondents said they had experienced some form of street harassment such as verbal comments, honking, whistling, staring, groping and even stalking.
Nearly 57 per cent reported being touched or grabbed by a stranger in public.
Unfortunately, as time goes on, women experience varied and more offensive forms of harassment.
It’s one thing when these words are being shouted from a vehicle zooming past, but it doesn’t stop there.
The more confident men tend to stick to the sidewalks, often in a different tone.
“Hey baby, why don’t you smile?” is never an appropriate thing to say to anyone. What if the person you just asked to cheer up was suffering from the loss of a family member? No one has to look cute and cheery just for you. Keep the suggestions for how to make people look more pleasant to yourself.
Though these pathetic attempts to make a pass at me usually only illicit a vulgar response, there have, on occasion, been opportunities for me to try out some of my humour on the general public.
“Have you always been this gorgeous,” is always responded to with, “No, I used to be really ugly.”
Another place women are harassed are in nightclubs.
Having fun and feeling good, a woman heads to the bar to order a drink. That’s when she feels it. Warm, firm and unwanted, it’s a hand, gripping her — her hips, her butt or her breast.
Was it something she wore? Was it the fact that she was drinking? Was it the idea that if you go to a club you are obviously looking for some kind of sexual attention?
It was none of the above. It was the idea that a man has every right to assert his dominance over a female by putting her in a position where she becomes nothing more than a helpless sex object.
By JESSICA REDIKER